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High-speed rail bill prompts bigger question

By Paul Snyder

There are certain words or phrases I use so often in this line of work that makes it easy to lose perspective on their meanings.

For the purposes of this blog, I’ll cite “jobs” and “good intentions” as an example.

The subject of jobs has arguably become the preeminent story subject or subtext for at least the last year and a half. The construction industry continues to battle high unemployment rates as workloads slowly make their way back to 2006 or 2007 averages. And I bet there are people out there who wonder if they’ll ever return to those numbers.

So it’s not at all rare to have some union official or contractors association representative telling me about their members who are looking for work or on the brink of closing shop. It instills in them a fight to get whatever jobs are available.

And with a federal stimulus grant of $810 million attached, there’s no doubting that the high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison would likely provide a nice boost in work, although a lot of people are still unclear on those exact numbers as well.

So when I spoke with Terry McGowan, IUOE Local 139’s business manager, about the bill announced Tuesday that would curb spending on the line, I wasn’t surprised that he bristled.

State Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, argues the state is ill-equipped to handle the post-construction costs of operating high-speed rail and the debate needs to happen on the Senate and Assembly floors.


Hypothetically speaking, if the bill passed and the Senate and Assembly both agreed Wisconsin should axe the project, the $810 million would likely go to some other high-speed rail project elsewhere in the country. For those looking for job opportunities here, it would be a tough blow.

But the issue really isn’t about a rail line covering the roughly 80 miles between two Wisconsin cities. It’s about letting financing for transportation projects get to a point where people have to argue about jobs now versus paying for them later.

So many bills are introduced with good intentions (there it is) and you cannot fault Davis for wanting to look out for taxpayers. The problem is even if the train were to disappear, the $30 million hole in the transportation budget would not.

And nobody’s introduced the well-intended bill to plug that hole yet.

Paul Snyder is a well-intended staff writer with The Daily Reporter who also had good intentions for this blog.


  1. The other message that would be sent by a legislative ban on funding for high-speed rail initiatives is that Wisconsin will, in a political tiff, do a 180 degree turn on 15 years of precedent and planning.

    It also says that politicians are more concerned with supporting the radical (and often ill-informed) voices of talk radio than the industries and engineering firms that would provide materials, technical expertice, and well-paying jobs to a major project.

    Even if Wisconsin were to suddenly drop all corporate taxes, is this the environment a business in another state or country would find attractive for relocation or expansion?

    What a sad essay on the inability of legislators to see beyond their next campaign contribution.

  2. Brett Davis is running for Lt governor and is sliding in under the radar while Jim Doyle takes the bullets for the Milwaukee Zoo interchange failure…..shrewd political grandstanding at its finest

  3. Tommy Thompson wanted this and as governor worked very hard for it; but now that it’s happening on the watch of a Democrat, Republicans are trying to kill it. Gee.

  4. Karen Jeffries

    Most Republicans (and some Democrats) are in the pockets of the immensely-powerful paving lobby, which includes the roadbuilders themselves, the asphalt/concrete companies, the petroleum insidersand the motor-vehicle circle. Governor-wannabe Scott Walker flew down to Orlando recently to accept an unspecified amount of campaign cash from the paving lobby; the sum is generally assumed by insiders to be approximately $50,000.

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